Natalie Babbitt is an author and illustrator of children's books whose work has given me a great deal of pleasure over the years. She's best known for her novel Tuck Everlasting, which is widely acknowledged as a classic. While I agree that it's a wonderful story, it's far from my favorite Babbitt book. Here's a short annotated list of some of this beloved author's less familiar novels and stories. The Search for Delicious: In a nameless, timeless kingdom, the Prime Minister is writing a dictionary, but he runs into trouble trying to define “delicious.” He thinks that delicious is fried fish, but other people think it’s apples, nuts, beer, or Christmas pudding – and that’s just at the dinner table in the royal palace! Eventually, 12-year-old Gaylen sets out on his pony with orders to poll the entire kingdom (3 towns and a few farms) and find out which food gets the most votes. But no two votes are alike. In no time at all the people split into factions (Squashies and Crisps) and civil war looms. Meanwhile, Gaylen’s travels through forests, mountains, and lakes uncover mysteries he never dreamed of and raise questions. Who is Ardis? Why does she grieve? And what, in the end, is the true definition of delicious? Goody Hall: Hercules Feltwright had to give up being an actor because he constantly misremembered his lines:
“Where the sea bucks, there buck I, In a proud ship’s bell I lie, Dum da de dum, de dum dum, Dum da dum, I forget this part. Mariner, mariner shall I live now, Under the mosses that hang on the prow.”One morning he turns up at Goody Hall - a pleasant, if isolated mansion - and offers himself as a tutor to young Willet Goody, who lives there with his mother. But what of Willet’s absent father, Midas Goody? Is he actually dead? What’s really in the family crypt? And what does any of it have to do with notorious thief Mot Snave? The Eyes of the Amaryllis: Thirty years ago, the ship Amaryllis went down with all hands, including Geneva Reade’s husband, the Captain. Geneva continues to wait by the shore for his spirit to send her a message of some kind. And she waits alone since her only child, George, has come to loathe the sea - he moved inland long ago. This summer, however, Geneva’s 11-year-old granddaughter Jenny comes to visit and becomes enmeshed in the strange power struggle between Geneva, a mysterious person called Seward, and the sea itself. This tale’s subtly suggested 19th-century New England setting helps to create an atmosphere that is haunting, moody, and memorable. Herbert Rowbarge: Herbert Rowbarge is an unhappy man. All the joy went out of his life when, at the age of 3 months, he was separated from his twin. Ever since then he has felt – but not comprehended – that an important part of himself was missing. He achieves great wealth as the proprietor of an amusement park, and he has a devoted wife and twin daughters, but none of this can fill the hole in his life that he is at a loss to understand. Tragically, he remains unaware that his longed-for twin is very close by, and that time and again they just miss meeting one another. Babbitt has also written a few books of short stories that are every bit as good as her novels. The Devil's Storybook and The Devil's Other Storybook each contain ten comical stories of the Devil's adventures in Hell and in the land of the living. The Devil schemes, disguises himself (the better to pester and trick people), sometimes succeeds and is sometimes outwitted, but he is never less than amusing. Why is there a camel named Akbar in Hell? What happens when the Devil decides that he wants harps like they have in Heaven, or when one of his minor demons becomes obsessed with growing a rose - a thing that the Devil would never allow in his domain? And who but Natalie Babbitt could have come up with an opera singer named Doremi Faso? Jack Plank Tells Tales: Jack Plank loses his job as a pirate and comes to the town of Saltwash to find some other kind of work. He boards with Mrs. DelFresno and her little daughter Nina, who tries to help out by suggesting possible jobs. Unfortunately, there's always some reason why the jobs don't suit Jack, and in each chapter (Not a Farmer, Not a Baker, Not an Actor, etc.) he entertainingly explains why. Eventually Nina come up with the perfect career for a beached sailor who may not be able to cut hair, make jewelry, or tell fortunes, but who can most definitely spin a yarn - a gift he shares with his creator, the talented and remarkable Natalie Babbitt.